I’ve just died and gone to heaven. I just cooked with guanciale (cured pigs jowels/cheeks). I just ate guanciale while sitting back on my couch in my crowded, rent-is-just-too-damn-high apartment watching TV. If only every night could be like this.
If you read our blog (or know us personally) you will know how important Italy is in our lives. We were engaged in Rome and married in Tuscany. Because of our wedding, we ended up spending a total of almost 6 weeks all over Italy starting with our engagement in May, 2006 until our wedding in June, 2007. It has a very big place in our hearts and our stomachs! I think we each gained nine or ten pounds during our three week wedding/honeymoon this past summer. And I do not care that I probably still have not lost all of it. We ate two large meals a day and always had wine with our lunch, there ain’t any amount of walking that’s gonna melt those calories away.
One of our favorite places to eat while in Rome is right across the river from our favorite Roman neighborhood to stay in, Trastevere. We take the short walk across the Tiber to the Jewish Ghetto and up the building stairs to Al Pompiere. Al Pompiere is frequented by locals as well as smart tourists (you should not see any sneakers, oversized t-shirts or fanny/bum bag-wearing toolbags). Their food is very tradional Jewish-Roman cuisine. They have excellent Fried Artichokes and we’ve tasted about 6 of their pastas – all excellent. But, this is where we first tried Bucatini Al’amatriciana – a classic pasta dish from Lazio. It is named after a small town called Amatrice. Supposedly there are different ways to prepare this dish. In Amatrice they do not use onions, but in other areas you will taste them in the dish. Purists do not add garlic and purists would also only use guanciale. I love garlic and guanciale is often difficult to find in the States, so you can choose to be a purist or not. I’ve read others make this dish here in America with pancetta (next best thing to guanciale) or bacon (I guess it’s the second best thing to guanciale). Personally, after eating this dish in Italy many times and now creating it myself with guanciale, I can not imagine substituting it with anything else. I think I’m officially an Al’amatriciana snob, but maybe that’s because the last 4 times I’ve eaten this dish has been with guanciale.
After our honeymoon, I decided to (sneakily) smuggle a 3/4 pound slab of guanciale in my suitcase back to the US. At the airport, we had on our best “no, we don’t have any meat products in our possession” faces while we got through customs. But that was 6 months ago. The beautiful pig cheek slab has sat in our freezer in shrinkwrapped plastic waiting until the day was right to bring smiles to our faces and our guts. We couldn’t resist any longer – we finally ripped it open and created a pretty bang-on variation of the dish we ate many times in Italy. I know hands – down it was the guanciale. GOD BLESS PIGS JOWLS!
But, readers, PLEASE don’t think this dish wouldn’t be absolutely delicious without guanciale and with pancetta. It just may not have that specific rich, porky flavor that the pig cheeks have. We have about 1/2 of our slab left, so after one more meal 1/2 it will sadly be gone forever. Until my local butcher starts selling it, I will too be making this with pancetta.
PERCIATELLI (OR SPAGHETTI/BUCATINI) AL’AMATRICIANA
- 1/2 pound cured pigs cheeks (guanciale) or pancetta, thinly sliced
- 2 onions very thinly sliced (use a mandolin if available)
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
- 2 1/2 cups Amy’s Tomato Sauce (see below)
- 1 pound perciatelli, bucatini or spaghetti
What to do:
- Reheat your Tomato Sauce, keep warmed on low.
- Take your sliced guanciale or pancetta and cook on both sides on medium to medium-low. You want to just render some of the fat, not completely crisp up. After a few minutes, take the strips out and let drain on a paper towel. DO NOT THROW OUT ALL THE RENDERED FAT! Put most in separate bowl, keeping about 1-2 tablespoons in the pan.
- On medium-low heat, throw in your thinly sliced onions and slow cook these in the rendered guanciale/pancetta fat. This process could take up to 25-30minutes to sweat them down, but it’s WORTH it. The sweetness of the onions when cooked this way can not be duplicated without slow cooking them. You want to make sure you keep stirring them every once in awhile. Add more rendered pork fat if the onions look like they need it.
- Boil water for your pasta. Add your pasta to cook.
- Meanwhile, when guanciale/pancetta is cool enough to handle, cut into chunks about 1 inch long by 1/2 inch wide pieces.
- Add the garlic to the pan and then the guanciale/pancetta pieces. Allow to cook along with the onions for 3 minutes. Continue to stir.
- Add 1 1/2 cup of pasta sauce to the pan. Stir the sauce.
- Drain pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pan along with the pasta water. Toss with the sauce. Add more tomato sauce if necessary — remember never to oversauce your pasta!
- Allow to cook in the pan on low for a minute and then add pecorino. Toss and serve! Sprinkle some parsley on top for some green.
AMY’S TOMATO SAUCE (makes 3 1/2 cups):
- 1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes (san marzano preferred)
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced and 2 cloves garlic, smashed w/ back of a knife
- olive oil
- 4-5 basil leaves, torn
- peperoncino (optional)
What to do:
- Saute your onions in olive oil until slightly soft (4 minutes).
- Add your minced garlic and saute for another minute or so.
- Add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir. Add one teaspoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and the crushed garlic allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. The flavors will reduce together. Add peperoncino if you want a spicier sauce. Finish sauce with a little bit of olive oil and stir in torn basil leaves.